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Immigrating to Israel from US: A call only to certain American Jews

It is always good to remember that Jews come in all shapes and sizes, including the elderly, the infirmed, the socially inept, the financially challenged.

By Cookie Schwaeber-Issan February 20, 2024

Following a recent Jerusalem Post article which reported that the Aliyah Ministry had announced a new government plan to improve integration, the Post wrote an editorial to further strengthen and encourage the idea of American Jews to consider making aliyah (immigration) to Israel. 

As they say, read the fine print, because a close look will reveal that this summoning of “hundreds of thousands” of North American Jews is only directed towards a certain category, even though it’s not specifically spelled out. Otherwise, how does one interpret sentences like these? “A genuine call upon those Jews who can contribute toward a better Israel – those who have a unique talent or qualification that can be of benefit to the state during these sensitive times.  A massive aliyah of Jews can also assist in shaping Israel’s political stance and its attitudes towards religion and the state.”

So, here are a few questions:

What does contributing toward a better Israel look like?

What unique talents and qualifications must one have in order to benefit the state?

Would one’s political or religious viewpoints disqualify them even if they are seen to possess unique talents and qualifications?

What political stance is Israel in favor of shaping?

Which religious attitudes are acceptable and which aren’t?

All of the above have not been detailed in order to understand exactly which North American Jews would be welcomed and valued as new immigrants to the Jewish homeland, and that is troubling.  Because, in the ambiguous writing of these newcomer aspirations, there is a, perhaps, unintended but, nonetheless, understood perception that a call is being put out for only a few who are viewed as those who can serve the interests of Israel in a particular way.

Yet, that was never the ethos or ideology of our country’s founders who, in their visionary capacities, saw the pressing need to establish a homeland which would provide a place of refuge for all of world Jewry, regardless of whether or not they were capable of adding something unique and special.  While it’s true that many Jews are talented, industrious and clever thinkers, not all are endowed with the assets and resources which, according to this op-ed, are now being targeted for recruitment to the Holy Land.

It is always good to remember that Jews come in all shapes and sizes, including the elderly, the infirmed, the socially inept, the financially challenged, the atheists or unbelievers and a varying range of many other less desirables – to put it bluntly.  Are we to believe that those categories of Jews are less welcome or not at all?

Of course, when choosing players for a team, the ones who are first selected are those whose strengths are recognized and estimated as being an asset to a side which hopes to win.  Traditionally, those who are weakest, and seen to contribute less, are the last ones chosen, but Israel is not a game, and in today’s very perilous and super-charged anti-Jewish atmosphere, throughout the world, Israel cannot afford to welcome in its weakest last.

Perhaps, viewed as the least among all, would be American Jews who have intermarried, which composes 72%, when excluding Orthodox Jews. 

Although not connected to Rabbinic Judaism, the stream which is most accepted in Israel, they are, nonetheless, individuals who remain ethnically Jewish – something which cannot be taken from them no matter which agency does the determination.  Within those numbers might also be those whose religious beliefs are more in line with another faith, but, again, ethnically they are still from the Jewish tribe, as a people.

It was just a few days ago that a clip from Nashville, TN went viral, where an estimated group of two dozen men, whose faces were completely covered, dressed in black pants and red shirts, allegedly belonging to a neo-Nazi group called, “Blood Tribe,” carried large black flags with swastikas on them, parading down the main streets of the city – one which has an enormous Christian population and is considered part of the Bible Belt. A whopping 81% is said to make up the Christian population of Tennessee, a significant number of those being evangelical, Israel-loving people. 

While that march was roundly condemned by a state representative who said, “These groups once relegated to the dark corners now feel empowered to spew their noxious ideology out in the open due to our state’s leadership refusing to condemn their speech and actions.”  The vice mayor of Nashville concurred by saying, Nazis are not welcome in Nashville.  Shame on you all!  Get your hateful, dangerous fascist, Nazi nonsense off our streets and off our beautiful Public Square.”

This worrisome act is yet another in a large wave of anti-Jewish sentiment which is being felt in America as never before.  The small Jewish population of Tennessee must surely have its fair share of intermarriage, so would those families be shunned by the bureaucrats of the Jewish homeland who would, undoubtedly, view them as the “weak links” and “undesirables” among our people?  Because, up until now, that has been the policy.  Arrive at our shores with a signed letter from a rabbi, attesting to the fact that you are an active member of the Jewish community, and you’re in.  No letter, and you’re out.  

Is that really the type of empathy and compassion that we want to project to America’s diverse Jewish population, at a time when they are feeling vulnerable and threatened?  Many of these people have never, for one moment, considered immigration to Israel, but would they even dare to entertain such a thought if, from the outset, they are not welcomed?

When did Israel lose its idealistic vision of providing a safe harbor to Jews, who began to feel imperiled by those who hated them for no cause other than the race into which they were born? This is the criteria which must be carefully considered and addressed when deciding who should be chosen first to come home to a land which, ostensibly, was created for the very purpose of receiving all Jews, without preference to which are more desirable.

If proof of Jewish parents or grandparents can be provided, Israel has a moral and ethical obligation to accept such individuals into their ranks.  Not to do so, reflects a callous indifference to the frightening events which are starting to be commonplace in North America, including Canada, where a Jewish speaker was disinvited to appear at an event taking place in Ottawa, simply because pro-Palestinian activists found her Israeli military background to be objectionable.

As the Bob Dylan song goes, “The Times, they are A-changin’,” and with that realization, Israel must change with them as well and do right by all of her people in welcoming them into the fold to which they, too, belong!  

The writer is a former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and is the author of Mistake-Proof Parenting, available on Amazon. It is based on the time-tested wisdom found in the Book of Proverbs. 

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